Education in the Prisons

Many types of education were available to prisoners in Armagh Gaol and the Maze and Long Kesh Prison, including secondary education and vocational training. Arts workshops organised by the Prison Arts Foundation were also held in the H-Blocks in the later years of the conflict. Alongside formal classes and courses, informal learning was an important aspect of prison education, with some prisoners sharing their knowledge and learning gained on the ‘outside’. In addition, prisoners who were enrolled in formal courses could pass on their learning and resources to other prisoners, in what is known as ‘cascade’ teaching.

Significantly, the Open University (OU) began providing higher education courses to internees at Long Kesh in 1972.  In subsequent years, the provision of OU teaching was expanded across British and Irish prisons, including the H-Blocks and Armagh Gaol. Between 1972 and 2000, hundreds of loyalist and republican prisoners studied a wide range of courses with the OU. Students gained qualifications at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

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Source
Article

Troubles Archive

Hutchinson, B. (2009) Transcendental Art: A Troubles Archive Essay

McKeown, L. (2001)

Out of Time: Irish Republican Prisoners, Long Kesh, 1972-2000. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications.

Parallel Stories

A selection of clips from the archive exploring the theme from different perspectives.
We had a very very extensive library in our compound
Harry and Sean

Play Film

Watch the short film ‘Inside Education’ below – what types of education are mentioned? List them all.

I ended up doing a course in History and Politics – what else I suppose?
Seanna

Play Film

Watch the short film ‘Inside Education’ below – what were some of the challenges of studying in prison?

There was hundreds and hundreds of ‘O’ level successes
Bobby

Play Film

Watch the clips of the former prisoners. What role did education play for them in prison and afterwards?

We were each allocated a compound
Diana

Play Film

Watch the clips and reflect on what it was like for outside teachers to work in the prison

When I first started I did find it very strange
Joanna

Play Film

The family didn’t know
Jenny and Pat

Play Film

Inside Education

Door to the Education block in Maze and Long Kesh.

A short film, produced by PMA in July 2020, which reveals the breadth of education within the Maze and Long Kesh Prison during the conflict.

Links to NI Curriculum

CCEA GCSE History: Unit 1; Section B; Option 2: Changing Relations: Northern Ireland and its Neighbours, 1965–1998

Questions based on GCSE CEA history exam papers

01.
Using the clip of Seanna and your contextual knowledge, give two reasons that explain why education was viewed to be important by many prisoners at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison during the conflict.

02.
Using the clips of Diana, Joanna, Jenny and Pat, and your contextual knowledge, give two reasons that explain why teaching at the Maze and Long Kesh Prison could be challenging.

03.
How useful is the clip of Bobby for an historian studying the use of education in the cages/ compounds of Long Kesh? Explain your answer, using the clip and your contextual knowledge.

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Transcript

Harry and Sean

[S] In internment we had no formal education, we just had, because you didn’t know for how long you’d be in for or what was happening. So it was all just political education. But it was formalised to the extent that the lectures throughout the cages were all the same, you know, all the Officials had the same education programme which was drawn up, partly outside and partly inside, and the building up of the library and that. I was education officer in cage 9.

[H] That’s one of those strange anomalies that happen from time to time, that when we started to get into advanced level courses, you know leading to BAs and Bachelor of Sciences, and a few PhDs as well, that we had a very very extensive library in our compound which was taken with us. It used to take a lorry, a prison lorry, for that alone: to transport our books from compound to compound.

Transcript

Seanna

From a very early stage I decided that I wasn’t going to be broken and that in fact I was going to use prison against them. So I – to an extent anyway – managed to educate myself, to…we became fluent in Irish in here, we did the Open University courses that were available to us. I ended up, I ended up doing a course in History and Politics – what else I suppose? And I also did a, I also did a diploma in French. So I came out, you know, with a sense that I had achieved something, that I hadn’t allowed them to rob me of all these years.

Transcript

Bobby

The education was encouraged by the organisation outside. If people studied an ‘O’ level and passed they were sent in stuff from outside: parker pens, bits and bobs, you know. And it was very well supported and it helped a lot of people. The 52 life prisoners that were in the compounds then, there was only one prisoner who didn’t do any education at all. I think there was something like 12 or 14 Open University graduates come out of the compounds which is quite fantastic when you think about it. There was hundreds and hundreds of ‘O’ level successes so that helped a lot of people.

Transcript

Diana

There was no education provision here because the prison had, the prison system in Ireland was very small before internment. And suddenly there were all these people in prison and there was nothing being provided for them, they were cooped up in these compounds. And… so one of the lecturers at Queen’s organised, through his contacts, a group of us to come in once a week. And we were each allocated a compound, it seemed quite arbitrary. And so you got, I don’t know, a classicist dropped off at one compound, somebody – perhaps an English Literature specialist – dropped off at another one. And at that time I was in Communications Studies and I was dropped off at a compound. And it had nothing to do with whether the people in the compound were interested in your subject area or not. And I got the feeling that they were so bored that if I just got up and danced on the table top it would have, it would have been of interest to them. But I tried to get something going. Obviously after the initial curiosity the numbers were smaller.

Transcript

Joanna

“I did have classes of 15. And when I first started I did find it very strange and a bit scary I have to admit, all these men sitting around talking about feminism and Women’s Studies. But again after I while I sort of got used to it. And the students themselves were very supportive of me. So that, like even with the Open University classes, they would have, they would brought you tea and coffee, and they had a communal tuck shop so you were often being brought, you know mars bars and twixes and so on”

Transcript

Jenny and Pat

[J] You didn’t actually publicise the fact that you taught in the jails, did you? It was different, by the time I went it was different, but in your day, I mean your family didn’t know, did they?

[P] No, the family didn’t know. If I came down here on an afternoon I probably came or tried to arrange on an afternoon of an evening that I had a class. I still have old, everything we did as a household was in the diary beside the phone, and I still have all of those because we never moved house. But for that period there’s no mention, I would have just written ‘Armagh: 2 o’clock’. And certainly the children didn’t know, because I didn’t want the children to be talking about mummy going to jail or whatever it would have been at school. I did… I was committed to coming and committed to the work I was doing, but I didn’t tell anybody that I did it, certainly never mentioned it outside the OU, and even within… well we just got on with it